Terms and Concepts Overview

Ferris State University, as are all postsecondary education institutions, is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 as amended, and Subpart E of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112).

Under postsecondary policy there are new terms and concepts that coincide with making the transition to higher education. Each has been defined to aid in your understanding of federal law:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act Handbook defines an accommodation as "any change in the work environment [or instructional setting] or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal opportunities". This may include:

    • Providing or modifying equipment (e.g., allowing the student to use a student supplied audio recording device for lectures instead of taking notes)
    • Making facilities accessible — removing barriers (e.g., holding class on the ground floor) and make the class accessible so people with disabilities can participate
    • Providing readers or interpreters (e.g., sign language interpreters)
  • The Importance of "Declaring" the Disability:

    An important element of the "reasonable accommodations" section of the ADA is that:

    The student has the right to decide if they want to declare their disability

    • Only after the student has declared a disability to the appropriate individual (Disabilities Services at Ferris State University) is the instructor responsible for providing accommodations.
    • No declaration, no accommodation.
    • It is up to the student to decide in which class(es) to declare a disability.
    • It is important to note that all student work and grades up until the time he/she declares the disability ARE VALID, and do count towards the final grade. The declaration of a disability does not "wipe out" any past failing grades, etc.
    • Disabilities Services staff do have the right to ask for and/or require appropriate documentation and verification of the disabling condition, such as a doctor's letter (for physical disabilities), and/or a psychological assessment report (for learning disabilities or mental illness).
  • What is the Difference Between Entitled to Education and Right to Equal Access to Education?

    Entitled to Education Defined

    High schools are required under IDEA to identify the educational needs of students with a disability and provide a free and appropriate education. In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

    This act, commonly known as Public Law 94-142, provided that any child with a disability was "entitled to a free and appropriate education" in public school systems.

    That law, along with its numerous re-authorizations, reflects the nation's commitment to educating all its children, whether they have disabilities or not.

    Right to Equal Access Defined

    Higher Education institutions are required to provide appropriate academic accommodations to ensure that a student is not discriminated against. The student is responsible for disclosing his or her disability to the institution.

    In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. Modeled on section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, ADA is a civil rights law. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, as long as the person is otherwise qualified. In the case of publicly funded colleges and universities, ADA affirms the right of a student with a disability to a level playing field.

    Civil rights laws and the reasonable accommodations they call for are in no way intended — nor are they able to guarantee success. At most, a student can expect an equal chance to do the same work as their peers.

  • What is the Difference Between IDEA and the ADA?

    Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

    A federal law outlining the responsibilities of public schools (K-12) in regards to providing an appropriate education to students with disabilities. High schools are required under IDEA to identify the education needs of students with a disability and provide a free and appropriate education.

    That law, along with its numerous re-authorizations, reflects the nation's commitment to educating all its children, whether they have disabilities or not. Fundamentally, 94-142 and its successors (including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 and IDEA Improvement Act of 2004) said that public schools, with parental input and appropriate assessments, would determine what was most appropriate for a child's education. They were required to provide that education.

    Once an individual has reached their majority under the law, and the rules change. The principles of 94-142 and IDEA, including the required IEP (Individualized Education Program), no longer apply. Note: 504 Plans, under which many students are now served in high schools, are no longer valid either.

    Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

    In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. Modeled on section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, ADA is a civil rights law. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, as long as the person is otherwise qualified. In the case of publicly funded colleges and universities, ADA affirms the right of a student with a disability to a level playing field.

    That means that a college or a university must ensure equal access to all students who are otherwise qualified. Access means more than ramps and elevators and wide parking spaces. It also means access to information and to technology. Therefore, colleges and universities must make reasonable accommodations for a student's disability, so a student may be able to demonstrate their ability.

    However, civil rights laws and the reasonable accommodations they call for are in no way intended — nor are they able to guarantee success. At most, a student can expect a more equal chance to do the same work as their peers.

  • How is "Disability" Defined Under the ADA?

    Disability is defined as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, or working.

  • What is Meant by Documentation for Disabilities as Defined by Ferris State University?

    Documentation: Relative to a student with a disability requesting services at FSU, this is a written assessment from a professional with expertise in that particular field of disability. This documentation is required in order to determine the student's eligibility for services and the specific services that are needed.

  • What is the Definition of Equal Access?

    Equal Access is defined as providing students with disabilities, who are "otherwise qualified", the same educational opportunities and full participation in programs and activities as provided to all other students.

  • What is Meant by Essential Course Activities?

    Essential course activities are tasks that are fundamental and necessary to complete the course: e.g., completing daily reading assignments, either independently or using an acceptable accommodation (e.g., books on tape).

    They do not include incidental duties: e.g., providing snacks for the class.

    Essential course activities include the amount of time spent on a specific task or duty: e.g., completing a paper by the expected due date listed on the syllabus. Instructors may accommodate students with disabilities by allowing them to use alternative testing procedures and formats for their assignments (e.g., for a student with a speech impairment, writing a paper rather than giving a presentation); however, students with disabilities can be held to the same work standards as their non-disabled peers (e.g., meeting assignment deadlines, etc.). These are not the only allowable accommodations under the law.

    Essential course activities are also what the instructor believes to be an essential course activity: e.g., subscribing to a class email listserver and checking it regularly. The instructor can set his/her own class requirements as long as these can be verified as important (e.g., the student must have access to email because the large number of students in the class prohibit the instructor from photo-copying all handouts, so email document attachments are used to disseminate this information instead).

    Finally, essential course activities are course requirements performed by past and current students in the course: e.g., using specific computer software, etc. However, instances where past students have expanded their class participation (i.e., gone beyond what the syllabus requires) are not considered "essential course activities" under the ADA.

  • How Does Ferris State University Identify Students with Special Needs?

    In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Resolution 504, Ferris State University accommodates students with documented disabilities. All documentation for requesting accommodations is evaluated by licensed professional counselors in the Educational and Career Counseling Center or the Department Head to determine the need for accommodations. The student must initiate the action by contacting the ECCC. If the student does not provide documentation, no accommodations will be provided.

    • Students are not required to identify themselves as having a disability. It is important to know students are not eligible for accommodations until they have done so. This is referred to as "self-identifying."
    • Students must submit appropriate, recent documentation of the disability to be evaluated with respect to limitations of the student's disability and meet with a licensed counselor in the Educational and Career Counseling Center, located in the Arts, Sciences and Education Commons building, room 1017, to establish eligibility for services.
    • Accommodations are not retroactive and a new request for services must be submitted each semester the student is enrolled if he/she wants accommodations.
    • Parents cannot identify special needs for their student.
    • Students with the same disability may require different accommodations.
  • What is Meant by Otherwise Qualified?

    When a student applies to Ferris State University they are required to demonstrate to admissions staff they meet the entrance standards for FSU.

    The student provides their high school transcripts, college entrance scores (ACT or SAT) and any other important information about themselves that will have a bearing on their potential to succeed and contribute to our diverse campus community.

    Please note: Community colleges generally have "open door" policies and do not require ACT or SAT testing for admission. Placement tests are required at most community colleges for appropriate course registration.

    If a student has been accepted to FSU they have demonstrated they are qualified individuals, despite having a disability.

    In a nutshell Otherwise Qualified is defined as:

    When a student meets the same academic requirements and standards as non-disabled students. These requirements and standards must be considered necessary to maintain the integrity of a course, program or college policy. For example, a student with a disability is required to meet the instructor's expectations for all students in regards to class participation, work standards, attendance, and ability to demonstrate acquired knowledge.

  • What is Meant by Reasonable Accommodation?

    The ADA stipulates that post-secondary institutions are responsible for providing necessary accommodations when a student declares a disability. Reasonable accommodations are made in order to level the playing field for otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities. As much as possible, accommodations are designed to minimize the functional limitations of an individual in a given task.

    These adjustments permit students with disabilities the opportunity to learn by removing barriers that do not compromise academic standards. Wherever possible the disability is minimized as a measure of performance in the academic environment. This is typically accomplished with services or strategies focused on the end result, rather than the means by which that result is customarily achieved.

    The amended law requires reasonable accommodations to be provided to otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities so those with disabilities can enjoy the benefits and privileges equal to those enjoyed by similarly situated individuals without disabilities. It requires agencies to provide reasonable accommodation for known physical or mental limitations of qualified others, unless to do so would cause undue hardship. The law also ensures equal access to Federal programs, activities, and facilities to people with disabilities.

  • What is Meant by Self-Advocacy?

    In order to ensure a level playing field, students must advocate effectively for the accommodations they require at college. It is important a student understands their disability and the ways in which it limits their functioning at the university level. The limitations of the disability, not the disability itself, are the reason accommodations are recommended and provided.

    A student must become adept at realistically assessing and understanding their strengths, weaknesses, needs, and preferences.

    Also,they must become experts at communicating this information to other adults including instructors and service providers.

    Although services will be available to them through our office students will be responsible for seeking these services and supports. Good communication skills and knowledge about oneself become crucial to success in college.

  • What is Meant by Undue Hardship?

    This section of the ADA addresses the common-sense notion that not all accommodations can be provided in all settings. Here, the law stipulates that universities are not required to provide an accommodation that will impose an "undue hardship" on the operation of the class, where "undue hardship" means significant difficulty or expense in, or resulting from, the provision of the accommodation. The following are often used to help make this determination:

    • Size of the program/class
    • Financial resources
    • Cost of accommodation
    • Alteration or change in the course requirements: e.g., a course instructor is not required to transcribe his lectures into overheads to accommodate a hearing impaired student (though this could be pursued as a possible accommodation, if acceptable to both the student and the instructor).
    • Disruption of other students: Note: instructors should only invoke this "undue hardship" clause after having attempted reasonable accommodations in the classroom, or in cases of extreme student behavior. For example, a student with epilepsy cannot be automatically excluded from a class because the instructor fears that a disruption (e.g., a grand mal seizure) may occur during class. However, if this student is enrolled in a class and does experience grand mal seizures in class on a regular basis, the instructor may have a case for claiming "undue hardship" on the basis of disruption.
  • What is Meant by the Phrase With or Without Reasonable Accommodations?

    Understanding this phrase is critical to understanding the distinction between a civil right to equal access and an entitlement. Because a college education is not an entitlement it is legal for a student with a disability to flunk out of college. There is no guarantee of success. Civil rights laws do not mandate a safety net. Students with disabilities must perform at the level their academic and professional programs expect of all students. The college or university will strive to level the playing field, but ultimately the student's work must be their own and be of a satisfactory quality.

    In addition to guaranteeing civil rights to reasonable accommodations, the ADA also guarantees any individual with a disability the absolute right to refuse any accommodation. That means Disabilities Services doesn't make sure a student requests accommodations.

    While counselors rely heavily on documentation of the disability when determining accommodations, they also draw the student into a discussion of functional limitations and possible strategies. If a student doesn't request an accommodation, however, the consequences of that action belong to the student. Adults make their own choices.

    Students with disabilities must perform at satisfactory levels in their academic pursuits at college. If they do not request reasonable accommodations and perform poorly without them, their civil rights have not been violated. The student must then accept the consequences of unsatisfactory academic performance.